One Student’s Call for Diwali to Be Recognized as a District Holiday


Arnav Mehta

A diya (flame) is lit in honor of Diwali, a widely celebrated holiday in Indian cultures. Photo taken by Arnav Mehta.

The average child’s up-bringing usually consists of stories meant to distribute morals and teach life lessons. These stories, passed down through religion, tradition, and even pop-culture, from superheroes to cartoons, tend to influence our moral compass. Throughout these stories, one life lesson is consistently found: the triumph of good over evil, a message central to Diwali, as well. 

“What even is Diwali?”

I’m sure that you all have heard Mr. Mahoney wish everyone a Happy Diwali on the announcements in past years, but how many of you actually know what Diwali is? Diwali, or the Festival of Lights, is one of the most important Indian holidays, celebrated by over a billion people in the world. Based on the lunar calendar, Diwali is celebrated over five days, each celebrating a special aspect of the festivities. For many, Diwali is also the beginning of the New Year. The main day of Diwali is the third day. Diwali is all about celebrating and spending time with friends and family. During Diwali, Indians light “diyas”, decorate their houses, enjoy fireworks, and eat delicious Indian sweets. While Diwali has many different historical narratives because of the various religions that celebrate it, its message of the triumph of good over evil is clear. 

The Nanuet School District needs to adopt Diwali as a school-wide holiday. For far too long, Diwali has not received the attention and appreciation that it deserves. Like other religious holidays, Diwali requires time in order to honor the festivities and the traditions that are truly part of its magic. During the festive season, everyone gets involved, whether it be making or lighting the diyas, decorating the house, cooking food, or making mithai (sweets). By having to attend school on that day, these preparations are cut short and often fall entirely on one person, or no one at all. Now, imagine if Thanksgiving wasn’t a national holiday. How would the traditional dinner be impacted? Would the central theme of Thanksgiving be fulfilled? Would families be able to spend time together? Absolutely not. Without the time off from school and work, preparing dinner would be almost impossible, forcing Americans to resort to pre-packaged dinners. Families would not be able to enjoy what limited time together they would receive. Thanksgiving would no longer bring families together and the aunt that visits once a year, would never be able to visit. 

Now translate these nightmare situations over to Diwali, which does not receive a holiday in its name, at least in our school district. Imagine how catastrophic it is for families looking to spend time together, to instead see that their child is overloaded with a project or a major test on the next day and can’t spend quality time with their family. This is a horrifying reality for our community, which is blessed by its diversity, including the large Indian population. The festivities of Diwali are meant to be completed with family and friends, something that can’t be done with overarching deadlines. Spending time with family and friends creates the magic of Diwali and a school-wide holiday is essential to preserving that magic. 

“But why should I care? It isn’t even part of my religion, so why would I celebrate it?”

Even though Diwali is a religious holiday, that does not mean that you can’t celebrate it. At its core, Diwali is the Festival of Lights and celebrates evil succumbing to the power of good. This basic idea has no religious affiliation. So go on, decorate your house, fire up some lamps, and add some sparkle to your life with colorful lights. Along with that, eat dinner with your family and invite some close friends over. And if spending time with others isn’t your “vibe”, then use the day off to catch up on work or just to relax. The demanding timeline of school makes it hard to find time for yourself. A day off, once in a while, is the perfect remedy.

Diwali can no longer be just a day where a simple announcement wishing everyone “Happy Diwali” is made. Recognizing Diwali as an official school holiday would honor its celebrants and award an opportunity to all to spend precious time with family, making memories for years to come. Starting in 2023, New York City will finally properly honor Diwali by allocating a day off of school in its honor. It’s time for Nanuet to catch-up with the world. If the White House and New York City can celebrate Diwali, why can’t we?